John Davidson explains why the All Blacks scrum-half could make a successful code switch
Why TJ Perenara would be a hit in rugby league
It’s the potential cross-code move that’s got the world talking – New Zealand star TJ Perenara to the National Rugby League’s (NRL) Sydney Roosters.
All Blacks going to rugby league used to be a common occurrence. Kurt Sherlock, Frano Botica, John Timu, Marc Ellis and Craig Ellis all made successful switches, but high-profile transfers from union to league largely dried up on a big scale once the 15-man game went professional in 1995.
Most recently Sonny Bill Williams made the move between the two effortlessly, and of course ‘SBW’ was a league player who first crossed to union, before going back to league, back to union and then finishing his career in league.
But Thomas Tekanapu Rawakata (TJ) going to the 13-man code would be no surprise, considering his family links. His father Thomas played for the Junior Kiwis, New Zealand rugby league’s national U20s, in the late 1980s.
Two of his cousins, Henry and Marcus, both played in the NRL and Henry is a current NRL referee.
Perenara has been studying and watching the sport his whole life, and this code change is not something sudden or done on a whim.
As Melbourne Storm hooker and New Zealand international Brandon Smith revealed, the All Black has been analysing it for some time and getting advice on what he needs to do:
In union, Perenara has already won a Rugby World Cup, earned 69 New Zealand caps and lifted a Super Rugby crown with the Hurricanes.
A code switch is not about money, as he could earn more in Japan or Europe than in the NRL. But league presents him with a fresh challenge, and he would succeed because he has the natural attributes.
Why TJ Perenara would be a hit in rugby league
The 29-year-old is a strong defender with strength and speed, and the necessary body shape required. He would get tested more at hooker in league and have to make more tackles per game, but he could do it.
The scrum-half is a courageous tackler who puts his body on the line and relishes the physicality, as this clip shows:
Perenara is also young enough with time on his side to adapt, unlike Wales great Gareth Thomas, who was 35 when he went to rugby league.
Perenara is used to playing up-tempo rugby at pace, and is a terrific support player.
In league, the speed of the play is quicker and there are less stoppages, the ball is in play more, and that would suit someone with his engine and vision.
The Roosters are also a perfect fit. That is the club SBW joined from union in 2013, and where he ended his career last year. They are one of the most successful and well-run clubs in the NRL, and even have France icon Frederic Michalak on their coaching staff.
Last year the Roosters used former Australia coach Michael Cheika as a consultant and coach Trent Robinson is an out-of-the-box, unconventional thinker. Regarded as one of league’s best coaches, the cerebral Robinson would give Perenara the time and support to thrive.
Further helping him make the switch would be having quality players around him. The Roosters are stacked with world-class talent – full-back James Tedesco, outside backs Brett and Josh Morris, half-back Luke Keary, forward Angus Crichton (who represented Australia at schoolboy level in rugby union) and fellow Kiwis Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.
He wouldn’t have average players alongside him or be in a struggling team. It is the perfect environment for Perenara to learn in.
“If you’re going to make a transition like this, and it’s quite the transition, going into a top club is an absolute luxury,” says dual-code Ireland international Brian Carney.
“The last thing you want to be doing is being on struggle street. The Roosters will have the luxury of using him judiciously and not throwing him in the deep end.”
Carney believes Perenara has “without question almost everything” to make it in league, and could even help improve it.
“The only thing I couldn’t comment on, one of the most challenging things about rugby league and rugby union players find this, is that it’s so physically demanding stamina-wise,” he says. “The stamina needed for rugby league is a different level to union.
“No question he’s got the skills. Has he got the toughness? Absolutely, he’s a rugged individual. He’s got an edge to his game, which will fit right into rugby league. And he brings a particular skill that is lacking in rugby league and that is dummy-half passing.”
Now we wait to see if rumours become reality.
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